Michael Dunlop has had a massive amount of success online with Income Diary and Retire at 21. This young, online entrepreneur has also interviewed some of the best in the business, so his unique perspective on blogging and making money online is based off of numerous success stories and high profile workshops.
Having started this process at the young age of 16, this 21 year entrepreneur is setting the online world on fire and in this interview…we go into the how and why of the different aspects of his business.
Michael: I’m doing great, Robb. It’s great to be here and I’m excited about sharing some great advice and sharing my story.
Robb: Awesome. I really appreciate you taking the time out today to talk to me and for our readers and everyone else. Why don’t we just go ahead and jump right in it. In the beginning, why didd you start blogging?
Michael: Because I wanted money. I sort of got into it by accident. At the time I didn’t know it was blogging. It just made sense to have a CMS, and it basically got programmed to build what we know today as a blogging platform.
It went well. I was probably about 15 or so. After doing other stuff online, it just seemed to be an easier way to make money than all the stresses with other ideas like selling an actual product, which can be time consuming.
Robb: Definitely. You started this process at a pretty young age of 15, 16 with RetireAt21. How long was it before you saw real results both as kind of a progression with subscribers and monetarily with that blog?
Michael: When did I see a good result? I think it’s when I sort of changed how I delivered my content. I saw a great response right at the beginning.
My first site was actually WebDesignDev before Retire At 21. Then when Retire At 21 actually came around I sort of placed aside WebDesignDev and then later re-did it. It’s a long story, but to keep it short, that’s what I’m going to say.
With WebDesignDev, what I did was I did the whole tutorial scene. Delivering step-by-step tutorials is great, because it can clearly show someone how to do something, unlike just giving them a general idea.
I got some great results with that, but with Retire At 21, it was a sort of niche that thousands of other people were in and they were doing this whole, “I’m going to teach you how to make money.”
I don’t really find it great learning from someone who generally isn’t making that much money. I don’t really like to learn from those people, and so I wasn’t really doing very well, because that’s generally what I was doing. I was just pretty much doing what everyone else was doing.
So I basically thought, “Hey, so why don’t I interview all the people that are doing really well, and then I will actually have authority content and it will be actually, genuinely good advice.”
Michael: So once I started doing that, that was really cool. It sort of opened me up to have some great contacts. It’s sort of by mistake. You just want to interview them, because you want to find out more about them, but you sort of have a connection after that.
After that you can ask them to do other things with you. Like when I interviewed you. We obviously knew more about each other once we interviewed each other.
Michael: You can do a guest post, and we’ve connected a couple times after that as well, and stuff like that. It’s sort of just a great way to connect with other entrepreneurs.
Robb: Yes, that brings up a lot of opportunities for the future as well.
Michael: Yeah, great ones, and especially if you plan to bring out product and want affiliates. It’s much easier to ask for someone to sell your product once you already know them.
Another thing I did was start doing lists. I first did this with Retire At 21, and at the time I was getting 1,000 visitors a day. I did my first Top List and it was Top Earning Young Entrepreneurs and how much they were worth.
It wasn’t actually even finished, somehow it got leaked, and that day it got over 50,000 visitors. It just kept growing from there. I think it was just the sort of way we start seeing results and seeing like what I was doing was just changing my approach to how I altered my content.
Robb: What advice would you give young entrepreneurs looking to make an income online?
Michael: Start. I think that’s it. It’s something, probably a lot of people will tell you that. It’s just like do it, because so many people don’t actually start and that’s pretty much the main reason people fail.
Apart from that, I just re-emphasize the whole fact about delivering what you’re doing, to deliver it in a different way. If everyone’s writing the exact same thing, then there’s no reason why they should go to you over other people. When you deliver your content in a different way, it sort of gives them more of a reason to go and see.
Robb: At what point in your blogging did something change? When I talk to a lot of bloggers they say, “There was this point in time where I knew something had changed,” and it started to be more of a faster progression, I guess you could say.
Is there a point in your blogging that you can look back on? A day or a period of time where you knew something had just gotten over that plateau and you were really getting into successful blogging?
Michael: Yeah. It was probably the day I launched Income Diary. Basically, when I started Income Diary, I came up with the idea about a week before and spent about two days just installing the blog and finding someone to interview for it.
It was really nothing impressive. I just put it together. It was the fact that the way I monetized the site changed my blogging forever. If you can make a lot more money from it, it means you can do so many other things with your blog.
Generally if you’re not making much money, you can’t afford to do great advertising, you can’t get a great theme, you can’t all these other things. I wasn’t selling advertising space or sell Google AdSense. That stuff just doesn’t work.
It works, but it doesn’t work on the level other things can work for you. Instead of making $1,000 a month, I found out potentially how to make $10,000 a month and up. Obviously, once you can do that it’s a game changer.
Robb: Well, since you brought it up, Income Diary has been kind of a really huge hit online with not only bloggers, but other entrepreneurs. When did you actually come up with the idea and what was your inspiration behind IncomeDiary.com?
Michael: Basically, I had all these people coming to me saying, “How do I create a website? How do I create a blog? How do I make money online?”
At the time, I had a really basic guide on Retire At 21 showing them this is how to sort this out on the website. It was really bad. It was just basically saying, “Buy a domain. Buy hosting,” and then anything else I could think of to sell them. It just wasn’t well thought out.
So I thought, “Hey, what’s the best way to deliver this content, because I need to build my email list, so why don’t I start an e-course?”
Basically, I knew I had to deliver this thing. Retire At 21 had so many bugs and errors, and it’s starting to be a 13 year old program. That’s really not a great way to start a website. I just thought, let’s start with a new site.
I love building things. I’m not so much one for keeping something going or maintaining something. I like to be inventive. I was like really pumped up doing that. I just started thinking I have this domain, IncomeDiary.com, which I bought off a guy called Tom. I paid $100 for it.
I thought, “Hey, this is great. I can start putting things together.” I thought to put out an e-course and it went really well. I actually heard recently a great quote and it was by Stewart Wild. I don’t know it exactly, but the gist of it is, “Find a problem, create a solution, and then build them.”
That was pretty much what I did with my e-course. I found a problem. Everyone wanted to create a website and didn’t know how to. I created a solution and then built them. I built in monetization strategy, pretty much an affiliate-based one, and it worked. So that’s sort of the principle I went with.
Robb: We’ve talked about this before, but IncomeDiary.com uses this theory that you refer to as “No leakage.” There are other online entrepreneurs that use this same theory. Would you like to go into that concept further and how it pertains to blogging?
Michael: Yes. It’s really important. Basically, so many people – and I’m not saying it’s wrong, just if you want to make more money it’s something you have to do. Typically people will have a blog roll. It’s what every blog comes with.
Well, the idea of having links to other sites and not getting paid for it means you’re not going to make as much money, because your readers will go to their blog instead of clicking your ads or clicking your affiliate links or signing up for your newsletter.
You want to basically get down the amount of ways that people can get out of your site without making you money or signing up for your list. That can be done in loads of ways.
I started just playing with Crazy Egg, which is some software that basically tells you where people are clicking and what’s happening. You can see what does work and what doesn’t work.
If people aren’t opting into this list, if people aren’t clicking these affiliate links, why aren’t they? Maybe you add a picture next to them. What I did was I added a green stop sign, which seemed to go from no clicks on the affiliate link to about 15 a day. It made a huge difference there.
Basically, you want to get them onto your list. That’s pretty much the main idea, because once they’re on your list, they’re with you as long as you provide something to them.
You don’t want them to leave your site without making you money. You want to get down all the links. You want to get down all the potential ways to get out of the site, even advertisers. If people advertise on your site, that must mean they’re getting a big enough return.
Typically, people advertise on your site to promote an affiliate offer. If it works for them, then it should work for you if you promote stats or an alert or stuff like that. It’s always best to go with the affiliate group. That’s what I found.
Robb: Over the course of Income Diary’s lifespan, you’ve had the chance to interview a lot of entrepreneurs and people who are making money online.
With this diverse crowd of successful individuals, are there any common themes that you seem to see repeat themselves regardless of their business model or niche?
Michael: Yeah. Typically most of them, about 95% of them, work really hard. Something that people don’t see enough in our industry is that you have to work hard, because you can get quite a bit of success without too much, but to really take that to a whole new level, you have to sort of dig in and get working really, really hard.
Another thing is to have a lot of fun. You sort of burn out if you don’t have a good balance of business and pleasure. They enjoy what they’re doing. They’re passionate about it. If you’re not passionate, you couldn’t bring that across in what you’re doing. I think that sort of sums up entrepreneurs that are successful.
Robb: A lot of bloggers look to interviews and podcasts as a way to expand the offerings on their blog. What advice do you have with bloggers that are nervous about this transition and how to get started actually interviewing people in their topic?
Michael: The first thing is you need to get some interviewees. When I started, I didn’t really know how to go about it. I just basically started emailing them. It actually was quite successful.
A lot of people, especially entrepreneurs, they want to give back. They like helping people, because to get to where they are today, usually someone’s helped them.
Usually with a lot of people, they just like talking about themselves. They like to be interviewed just because it makes them feel good about themselves. I think you’ll be surprised how easy it is to get some of the higher level people you’d like to interview.
The most important thing is really your email you send to them. You want to make sure it applies and it’s attractive to them. Tell them that you know who they are.
One big flaw I see with people asking me for an interview is they don’t make it feel personal. If we’re doing something for you, we don’t want to know that you sent the same email to 100 other people. Always remember to say, “Hello, Michael,” to mention my websites, or to mention something about it to make sure I know.
What I do in my email is I’m like, “I’m very impressed with your speech at this seminar, or your new addition to your site,” or something just to make it personal and to make them feel good about themselves.
Then tell them what’s in it for them. Potentially, if you’ve got 1,000 visitors a day or something, you’re one of the biggest sites in golf or something, you want to emphasize that. That always helps.
Once you’ve got the interview, it can be done two ways. It could be done over the email, and probably my first 100 interviews were over email. Once you say email or phone, you get a lot more people to accept your interview, because they don’t really want to go off and type all this stuff up for you.
I like audio best, because you can get it transcribed and then people can either have it as audio or as a transcript in text. To record it, I use Pamela for Skype. You use Cool Recorder, don’t you?
Robb: Right. It’s a Mac only program.
Michael: Yeah. So to record you can do that. Then once you’ve got it recorded there’s loads of plug-ins for WordPress to get it out. I can’t actually remember which one I’m using, but just go to WordPress.org, I think.
Robb: I think I use PodPress, just like I am on my sites. That seems to work.
Michael: No. I used to use PodPress, and I won’t. Something went wrong with it, so I moved over to what I think it’s just called PodCasting, which is really annoying, because when you’re trying to Google it, you know, PodCasting WordPress blogging, it brings up all the other plug-ins, which doesn’t really work.
And too, some of you may want to transcribe your interview. I know you have a transcriber, Robb. I use a service called CastingWords.com. They’re generally quite cheap.
They go from about $.75 a minute to $2.50 a minute, depending on how quickly you want it. The quickest is 24 hours, and if you want it within two weeks, they do it real cheap. That’s a great way to get it transcribed.
Transcribing it is well worth it, because you can have great SEO power. All this text for the search engines does wonders for your blog.
I rank first page for so many of my interviewees, and that’s something not done too easily. I have to tell you that. Like for example, Ryan Deiss, he’s one of the biggest information marketers on the internet. He brings out products, a dozen a year or something. He’s a big guy.
I can rank first page for him, just because I interviewed him. They’ve got some great content, lots of it, thousands of words, and they’ve got all these links to it and it works really well.
That’s good, because if you interview someone in your niche, for example, Ryan Deiss, when people go to buy a product from Ryan, they’ll go to my site first, because they want to find out about him.
Then I can promote his product in the interview, so hopefully they’ll go and buy it through me. It’s a great way to pick up affiliate commissions as well.
Robb: What is your favorite aspect of blogging?
Michael: Just the fact that it’s on my terms. I get to do what I like, when I like. Some days I can work hard, some days I can work not so hard. Typically there will be a passive income element to it, so even if I don’t work for a week, I will still make a great income.
Obviously, that will start going down after a couple weeks. Say you were making like $10,000 a month and you stop working. It’s not going to go down to zero, but it will probably go down to a certain number and then stay there, because Google can only send you so much a day.
When you’re posting every day, you’ve got loads of more traffic coming in, because you’ve got your RSS feed and you’ve got your Twitter and you’ve got a buzz going. The second you lose that buzz, you’re going to go down a few notches, but you’re not going to go down at all.
Like I always will have a couple thousand visitors a day just from Google and people discovering my content. I don’t worry about that too much.
Robb: If you had one piece of advice for new bloggers looking to make an income online, what would it be?
Michael: Affiliate marketing. It’s hard really, because there’s a lot of mistakes to make and it could be done so easily. Really to get traffic all you need is good content. With good content they will find your site and Google will index you. People will share it on social networks. That’s pretty much all you have to do.
Once you’ve got traffic, you’ve got to monetize it. Typically with banner ads especially, it can be a slow process if you’re new to blogging, because your blog’s new. People are like, “Hey, it’s new. I don’t know if it’s got traffic yet. I don’t know if I should buy it.”
They can’t see anything strong. The blog isn’t strong yet. So with affiliate income, your first visitor can make you money, if you convert them. Now I’m sure most people know affiliate marketing is basically you get paid for sending a sale to someone.
Robb: You get a commission off of each.
Michael: Yeah, you get a commission. I think that’s the most important thing for a new blogger is probably working out what angle they’re approaching their niche with. There are some things that you’ll never make money with, and it’s surprising how many people go into those niches.
There are not many niches, but the angle or just sort of approach to it, it just doesn’t make money. It’s like you can’t have a blog or a business about how you love bottled water or something, because there’s never going to be enough people to share that passion, to share that interest, to actually make money.
You don’t want to go for something too broad, but you want to go for something that you’re going to have scope with, so you can grow the business. It’s not going to be just something small.
Robb: There has to be a market there to make it work.
Robb: If you have one product or coaching program outside of anything you have that you would recommend, what would it be?
Michael: I’m a big believer in workshops and seminars. I haven’t really bought many products, but I have been to quite a few seminars.
I’d highly recommend Ryan Lee’s Continuity Seminar and Yanik Silver’s Underground event. I have to say Yanik’s, because I’ve been to his five times. It’s pretty much been my education. Instead of going to college and going to learn like everyone else does, I’ve gone to his seminar once a year and that’s all the education I need. I think you can learn a lot more there than you can by buying a product. You get so many different speakers.
And it’s not just that, it’s the contacts you pick up. You get so much time to network and you meet so many other entrepreneurs that can really help you grow your business.
Robb: Your favorite food?
Michael: Favorite food? Roast chicken.
Robb: Favorite drink?
Michael: Orange juice.
Robb: Your favorite thing to do away from the keyboard?
Michael: I’m sure a lot of people probably think Xbox for me, because I go on about it quite a lot over at Twitter and Facebook, and when I see people in general. I think I like sports in general. It doesn’t really matter what it is, as long as it’s something active and blood pumping. So just sports in general, really.
Robb: Who inspires you the most?
Michael: I really don’t know. I think it’s just my competition, probably, because I’m quite competitive. When I see competition do something, I’m inspired to really get up, stand up and do something to make sure I can make them say, “Damn it, Michael’s done something cool again.”
People love a power game, so I know it’s a weird answer to get to say your competition, but they’re the guys that make me want to up my game constantly. I like being top dog really.
Robb: The friendly competition that keeps on making quality better, right?
Michael: Yeah. I mean, don’t think for a minute, anyone listening to this, that I don’t like them, or that we’re not really competition. I’m not saying like they’re nothing. Between a lot of us, we help each other on good terms.
Robb: Right. If you were not blogging today, what do you think you’d be doing?
Michael: I know that I’d have to do something entrepreneurial, because I failed pretty much on my exams and there’s no way I’d go into working minimum wage for somebody. I don’t know. Before I started blogging I was buying and selling stuff, you know, buy low, sell high.
I’d be doing something like that. I may have to start small like a market store, but I know probably by now if I did start it at the same time as my blogging, I’d have a shop, if not a chain of shops.
Robb: If you had to do it all over again, would you do anything differently?
Michael: Yeah, there’s a lot. Obviously I appreciate the mistakes I made, because it makes you a better person and a better blogger, but there are so many things that would have just saved time.
A lot of people will get quotes for design work or coding or hosting, and they compare prices instead of comparing what you’re really getting.
It’s not really price I look for anymore. You know how it’s worth spending more money to get a better job done? That’s come across in design work, coding and hosting – very much with hosting.
When you start, you want to cut all the costs that you can. I had to buy my first server and realistically, the server that I’m on now is like $400, and I think I got my server for about $30 or $40 a month.
That was a nightmare. They were sort of cowboys. They ran their business like they really didn’t care about their customers. They just wanted the money there and then.
They pretty much screwed me over and I lost the site because of it. I wouldn’t worry so much about how much something cost me, because essentially with the money I invested I made the return.
Robb: I had that same situation happen one time right before a launch and their servers went down for two days. That day after it came back up, I swapped everything and went for quality over price and never looked back. It’s night and day difference when you re-invest back into your business instead of just trying to pull all the money out of it.
Michael: Yeah. Don’t think for a minute that you could not keep investing in your business. I was looking at my accounts for January and I think there was a little minor $20, I think that’s all I really invested in new things, but some months it’s a whole month’s earnings that I would invest into new ideas and new concepts.
You have to constantly be re-investing and upping your game in new things, because that’s the only way you’re going to make more money and up your game. In my opinion, it’s the most fun thing in taking the risks and seeing the rewards.
Robb: Absolutely. 2010’s going to be a pretty big year for successful blogging. What can we expect to see out of you in the next calendar year?
Michael: I’ve got my own – not sure it’s going to be just blogging – but a product on basically how what I’ve done what I’ve done in the last year and how you can follow suit and the exact system I’ve done.
Apart from that, I plan to keep blogging and enjoying life. I’m moving out in two weeks time. I just want to explore life, enjoy it, and work hard while I’m young.
A quote that stuck with me is, “Entrepreneurship is about living a few years of your life like most won’t, so you can live the rest of your life like most can’t,” which basically means, work really hard now and you won’t have to work for the rest of your life.
That’s pretty much how I want to keep blogging. I want to get it done now and not look back and think, “If I worked harder…” and stuff like that. We’ve got such a great opportunity right in front of us. This is the time where a lot of money could be made for everyone, even if you’re starting today.
Look at IncomeDiary.com. It’s not even a year old and within a couple months of launching it was one of the biggest blogs in making money online. It had its first 100,000 visitors in its first month. It took me like a day or two to set up.
It’s something everyone can be doing. It doesn’t have to be blogging, it can be doing anything, but at least make that effort to start and keep at it.
Robb: Yeah, you always talk to those people who had great ideas that they never started. “It’s going to be the next big thing, you just wait and see,” and they never even take the first step.
Michael: Right. Usually, it could have been a good thing. What I’d say is don’t live with regret, and regret usually comes when you don’t do something. Just do something. Do it. Take a leaf out of Nike’s book.
Robb: That’s about all I’ve got. Anything you want to add before we wrap this up?
Michael: No, not particularly. I just definitely re-emphasize the point just do it. I’ve known so many people that I’ve come across, I’ve known personally and people who come to my site, and not enough people go off and take action.
Just say you make $1,000 a month. You’ll appreciate your life a lot more just having that flexibility, because perhaps you don’t have to work as hard or you can take a trip with your wife, or you can do other things. I think once you get going you will really appreciate it.
Robb: Thanks, Mike, for taking the time to talk with us today.
Michael: No probably at all, Robb. I enjoyed it and I hope to see you soon.